More than a century ago during the summer of 1909, air pilots were challenged to fly across the English Channel in a competition set by the British newspaper The Daily Mail. On July 25, 1909 Louis Blériot achieved a major first by crossing the English Channel by air, while wearing a Zenith watch on his wrist. At 4:15 am, the wind had dropped at Calais, France and it seemed like a propitious time to accomplish the challenge flying 40 kilometers from Calais, France to Dover, England.
With his Zenith on his wrist, he took off aboard the Blériot XI, a frail ‘bird’ featuring a wooden frame and parchment-like wings and crossed the channel in merely 37 minutes.
Zenith a pioneer in the construction of altimeters and wrist watches for Pilots in the early 1900s presented the new Pilot Montre d'Aéronef Type 20 line at Baselworld 2013. A collection featuring oversized pilot watches that almost look like old pocket watches fitted on a strap. The Pilot Montre d'Aéronef Type 20 Annual Calendar ref. 03.2430.4054/21.C721 we are reviewing here, is not only a 60-minute chronograph but also an annual calendar watch. This watch is fitted with with an oversized stainless steel solid and very robust case measuring 48 mm in diameter and 15.80 mm in thickness. The watch features a solid case back beautifully engraved with the Zenith aviation instruments iconography and a chocolate brown alligator strap.
This robust timepiece features a matte black dial with glossy surrounds around the chrono register and the running seconds sub-dial. Depending on the lighting conditions, the color of the dial can vary from deep black to dark gray and even almost dark brown. The dial features Arabic numerals in superluminova that are extremely bright and that will start to glow even when exposed to the slightest low light conditions. The dial features a running seconds sub-dial at 9, a 60-minute chrono register with date aperture at 6 and a day and month aperture at 3 o'clock. The dial comes with the iconic Zenith star on relief and the antique looking hands are made of satin brushed finished black ruthenium. The hands are also fitted with strong superluminova with the exception of the small hands and the tip of the chronograph seconds hand. The domed sapphire crystal is coated on both sides with anti-reflective coating to provide unparalleled readability of the dial and protrudes a little bit over the bezel. At any angle the time can be easily read and the curvature on the tip of the hands is a real treat for the eyes.
The case is satin brushed finished, while the bezel, crown, outer part of the case back and the chronograph pushers are highly polished. The rectangular pushers are rounded and fluted with vertical stripes. The onion-shaped winding crown is very large and easy to operate with or without gloves. Perhaps one of our favorite features on the case of the watch are the screwed-in lugs and the engraved plate —showing the case number and secured with two beautiful blued rounded head screws— on the left side of the case band. The beating heart inside this watch is the automatic Zenith calibre 4054 composed of 341 parts, 29 jewels and which beats at a frequency of 36,000 vph providing a power reserve of 50 hours. The biggest downside of this calibre is the lack of correctors for the day of the week and the month, which need to be set by adjusting the date wheel via the winding crown. Now, something we love about this movement is that the date is set after pulling the crown to the second and last position —opposed to the first position on most watches— and the loud clicking sound it makes as you advance the date.
This exceptional timepiece comes fitted with a dark chocolate brown —looks more black than brown— alligator strap with cream color contrast stitching and large square scales. The strap is very comfortable, quite thick and lined with a protective rubber lining. The strap is equipped with a big satin brushed buckle featuring the Zenith star on relief and has a very similar shape to that of the pre-vendome Panerai buckles but with a thicker and better construction. Even though this watch is waterproof rated to a depth of 100 meters, we would recommend getting this beautiful strap wet. The strap measures 24mm at the lugs and tapers just by 1 mm at the clasp.
On the wrist, this watch wears extremely nice and not as big as one would expect considering its massive 48 mm case size. The watch does sit high on the wrist but it can still be tucked under the cuff of a shirt. If you are ready to wear a Pilot's watch that is not your run of the mill timepiece, this Zenith ticks all the boxes. The best part of it is that you not only get the best chronograph out there but also an annual calendar complication all in one at a very nice price. Also available in 18K rose gold.
Sticker Price $11,000 USD. For more info on Zenith click here.